CULVER — Columbia City may not look like the biggest, most athletic team on the block, but Culver Military coach Mark Galloway knows appearances can be deceiving.
As a former Carmel coach, the first-year CMA skipper has squared off against Columbia City coach Chris Benedict before during summer league play, and he knows Benedict’s team will be ready as the two teams battle in an Eagles vs. Eagles match-up at the Class 3A at Huntington North basketball semistate at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.
“I coached against Coach Benedict in the summer time when I was down at Carmel. We crossed paths a lot so I’ve got the utmost respect for him as a coach and for his team,” said Galloway.
“I think it helps being familiar with his system, but you’ve still got to play the game. I do know one thing: Our team will not overlook them and definitely not size them up and think that they’re not a very good team because they may not look the part — they don’t have a 7-footer, they don’t have two 6-5 kids so they may not look overly intimidating warming up — but they’re fundamentally sound, they’re disciplined and they’re well-coached.”
Columbia City (19-5) enters Saturday’s contest on an eight-game win streak, and if CMA (18-6) hopes to end that run, it’ll need to close off the lane. Galloway, whose team has no trouble putting up points, has stressed the importance of defense throughout the post-season, preaching the old adage that defense wins championships.
“Defensively, we need to be able to play good team defense and know how to guard Columbia City the right way,” said Galloway. “We’ve got to make sure we do come out and concentrate on taking certain things away... It all comes down to defensively being down in a stance and being able to get stops, the old saying ‘Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships,’ and we’ve definitely gotten our kids to buy into team defense.
“As many match-up problems as they create for us, I think we equally create match-up problems for them. Defensively, when we are down in a stance, we can contain because we’ve played teams that have good quickness.”
Another strong suit for Culver has been its balanced offense of late.
Junior guard Jermaine Myers leads the team with a 20-points per game average, while 6-foot-5 senior forward Juwan Brescacin is averaging 14.46 an outing, and 7-1 Sudanese import Chier Ajou is averaging double figures as well with 10.22 a game, including a combined 35 points in CMA’s past three games.
Forward Willie Strong is also easily capable of double-digit production, and freshman guard Hayes Barnes had a break-out game in his team’s regional semifinal with Andrean at Crown Point last weekend, putting up a game-high 19 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting, making all five of CMA’s starters credible scoring threats.
“I think it was really, really big for Hayes Barnes’ confidence to step up and hit five 3s when they were doubling Jermaine and trying to get the ball out of his hands,” Galloway said. “That’s big for our confidence, and I think it makes it hard for other teams to know how to guard us. Our balance with guys capable of scoring in double figures, whether it’s Jermaine, Juwan, Chier, Willie or Hayes, any of those five can put the ball in the basket.”